Electioneering in IT: The New South Wales election

The upcoming New South Wales election on Mar. 22 has prompted both the incumbent Labor Government and the opposition to indulge in yet another round of promises to boost the information and communications technology (ICT) industry.

In a campaign that has been dominated by law and order and health issues, IT policy has taken somewhat of a back seat. The parties have nonetheless managed to trot out a slew of promises around industry funding and the use of technology within State Government agencies.

The incumbents

The NSW Minister for Information Technology, Kim Yeadon, released policy targeting employment and improved services for regional and business communities, with a budget of about US$59 million per year for ICT.

Under Labor’s Information Technology Policy, Mr Yeadon said the government would continue to attract more technology business to New South Wales (NSW). He would also ensure that people in regional NSW were not left out of the information revolution.

The government plans to investigate options for using open source software to cut costs, maintain system flexibility, and encourage industry innovation.

“New South Wales is the powerhouse of the information technology industry and it helps drive productivity and innovation across the economy,” Yeadon said.

The policy also includes the delivering of new hardware, software and Internet access to about 1,000 non-government organizations as part of what is dubbed the Better Service Delivery Program.

The Government also hopes to bring government, industry and the education sector together through an ICT Industry Skills Consultative Group to identify the skill needs of the industry and develop opportunities for partnerships within the industry.

It will also release an ICT Industry Development Strategy to identify barriers to growth and to formulate the necessary strategies to eliminate them. This will include specific strategies for encouraging the growth of the emerging multimedia and digital content sectors.

Finally, the take-up of ICT and e-commerce in rural and regional businesses through training programs such as those offered by community technology centres will be encouraged.

The Government claims that all initiatives within this strategy are funded from the existing forward budgets of the Department of Information Technology and Management, the Department of Education and Training and other agencies. As such, they would have no impact on the forecast Budget surpluses, Labor said.

The challengers

Shadow Minister for Innovation, Andrew Humpherson, told ARNet that the coalition would be a more open and transparent government, with more focus on IT, technology and the linking between private and government sectors.

“A coalition government will establish information technology as a central government ministry with state and regional development accountabilities,” he said.

“ICT needs to be better co-ordinated across government with high-speed broadband connections. Government owned and controlled infrastructure needs to be better managed and could include leasing to private sector where possible.”

The coalition wants to encourage a more rapid continuation of the trend of government agencies using technology to service the people of NSW at all levels.

Its priority will be to create a competitive investment and operating environment that encourages ICT investment by Australian and international companies.

“The review of state taxes by the coalition will include targeting payroll tax, land tax, and stamp duty reductions to encourage investment and employment in this area,” Humpherson said.

While promising to boost rural employment, a coalition government promises to encourage the adoption of computing and communications facilities by regional businesses and to provide services to support local businesses and provide rural employment.

Humpherson said the NSW public needed more access to simple government processing tasks such as applications for permits, licensing, registration payment, enrolments, disaster relief and ticketing.

“To achieve this we need senior decision makers at the political and departmental level understanding and believing in the benefits of advancing ICT applications,” he said.

The coalition made no financial promises regarding IT policy, but said that the $1 billion per year promised by the Labor Government was “unrealistic”.